Knoxville downtown park sculpture faces opposition to preserve trees
After nearly six years, the city of Knoxville is set to kick off renovations and install a $1.25 million sculpture at the Cradle of Country Music Park.
But an attempt to save several trees in the downtown park could halt the already delayed project for another six months.
Knoxville City Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution to suspend the public arts committee’s sculpture project to determine how to preserve mature trees in the park at the northeast corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive.
In 2018, the Knoxville City Council approved approximately $500,000 for the creation of the “Pier 865” sculpture, an interactive piece that features a pavilion with twisting arches. Once built, it will be the city’s largest and most expensive piece of contemporary public art.
The project involves the removal of five mature willow oaks to allow for the installation. There are plans to plant several native saplings in the area, but some locals believe this is not enough.
In the proposed resolution, council members Seema Singh and Amelia Parker urge the city to put the project on hold, calling on the city’s commitments to mitigate climate change, the shrinking downtown canopy and the negative effects of islets of heat.
“Existing mature trees in the park are 35-40 years old, and their environmental and social benefits cannot be offset in the next 35-40 years by planting young trees,” the proposed resolution reads.
They suggest putting the project on hold for six months to modify the plan “to preserve as many mature trees in the Cradle of Country Music Park as reasonably possible” with input from the Public Arts Committee, Department of Engineering, Department parks and recreation and community stakeholders.
A Change.org petition has garnered more than 750 signatures in support of tree preservation, and activists plan to show their support for the resolution at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
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“While we are in favor of public art, we do not want to lose our trees which are currently helping to protect the corner of Gay St. and Summit Hill Drive from rising temperatures downtown,” wrote the petition organizer, Julia Roy.
The total cost of the project is $1.25 million, according to a document provided by the city: $500,000 from the city’s Public Arts Committee; $500,000 from the city’s downtown improvement fund and parks and recreation department; $167,000 from the state and Visit Knoxville; and $83,000 from the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.
The City of Knoxville was unavailable for comment until Tuesday when asked for an update on the project Friday.
David Brace, the city’s chief operating officer and deputy mayor, told Knox News in June that prequalified contractors would begin bidding on the base concrete portion of the project in June or July.
Arts and Culture Alliance executive director Liza Zenni said she hoped the sculpture would be assembled by the end of the year.